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Burbank teachers lament large class sizes

District average is nearly 30 students to one instructor, with some classes exceeding 40.

November 15, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Burbank educators and school officials expressed their frustration over the underfunded state education system which they say is partly to blame for high class sizes across the district.

Burbank Unified reported a district average of 29.66 students to one teacher last week, a figure that adheres to the district’s agreement with the Burbank Teachers Assn., which sets the ratio at 30.5 students to one educator.

The district’s figure, however, was calculated by considering only the students and teachers in academic classes such as English, math and science.

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Other classes, such as physical education courses that can have more than 40 students per instructor, were not factored into the district’s calculation.

At the elementary school level, some of the largest classes report 35 fifth-graders to one educator and 34 fourth-graders in one class.

The smallest class sizes were 24 first-grade students to one teacher and 26 kindergartners in one class.

For Lori Adams, who is president of the Burbank teachers union and a math teacher at Burbank High, class size is one of the greatest factors that impacts students in the classroom.

“In a math class, I can’t get to all of their questions before I have to teach the lesson,” she said. “People think class size doesn’t matter, but it really, really does.”

Burbank High English teacher Diana Abasta also lamented high class sizes during last week’s school board meeting when the district released its figures.

Among the 191 students she teaches, students’ reading levels range from fourth grade to beyond high school, she said.

“You can call averages all you want,” she told the school board and district administrators, before encouraging them to spend a day in her shoes.

“I really need you to understand the absolute — I say, burden, and I’m not embarrassed to say burden — and a workload for your teachers,” she said.

For school board members, who have seen the district endure years of state education cuts and have not given pay raises to teachers in several years, said the lack of state funding is at the root of the problem.

“Basically, we’re never going to solve this problem,” said school board President Dave Kemp, who added it can’t be solved until California invests more money in education.

“The class size issue is the ever present conundrum of my years on this board,” said school board member Larry Applebaum. “It has to do with resource allocation and what’s best for kids. And those things may seem like they go hand in hand, but, unfortunately, they don’t.” 

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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